From the Garden: Seed to Pickle

cucumbers

When the harvest comes on fast and plenty, it’s time for pickling! Seen here the Arkansas Little Leaf Cucumber.

It’s the height of summer and our cucumber and bean production is just wrapping up.  These long, warm days are perfect for indoor food-preservation projects, and nothing gets faster results than quick pickling.  The kitchen has been featuring pickled beans, cucumbers, and peppers from our garden in a variety of styles, both sweet and sour. The empty pickle bowls at the end of meals speak for themselves.

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Every good pickle starts with a good brine and includes the freshest produce available.  We pickled two varieties of cucumbers this year, both grown in our garden: the Suyo Long from Asia and the Arkansas Little Leaf.

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Suyo Long Cucumbers

Both varieties work well in this environment. We chose them for their pest- and rot-resistance, which is key in this hot and buggy climate.  Growing varieties familiar to your growing region and climate is a trick of the trade among organic growers.  The Southern Exposure Seed Exchange out of Virginia is where we source most of our seeds. Many of their seed growers are farmers in the southeast.

You do your best growing the right variety, but pests often make an appearance anyway. The pickleworm reemerged this year, but we got an early handle on it with the biological pesticide BT.  (Read more about our history with the worm and the pesticide.) When our kitchen is overwhelmed with cucumbers, I’d say we triumphed!

Here’s our recipe for your own home-made quick dill pickle. The whole coriander seeds and sprigs of dill make for a real eye-catcher!

———-Dill Pickle Recipe———-

  • *1.25 C distilled white vinegar
  • *3 tbsp kosher salt
  • *2 tbsp sugar
  • *2 C cold water
  • *2 tbsp coriander seed
  • *6 large cloves garlic, peeled and halved
  • *1 tsp mustard seed
  • *0.25 tsp red pepper flakes
  • *16 sprigs dill
  • *1.5 to 2 lbs cucumbers, cut in spears or sliced in 0.25 inch rounds

Combine vinegar, salt, and sugar in a small, non-reactive saucepan over high heat. (Stainless steel, glass, teflon, or ceramic will work.)   Whisk until the salt and sugar are dissolved.  Transfer liquid into a bowl and whisk in cold water.  Refrigerate brine until ready to use.

Place cucumbers in clean 2 qt. container such as a large Tupperware or stainless steel stockpot.  Add coriander seed, garlic cloves, mustard seeds, red pepper flakes, and dill sprigs, then pour chilled brine over the mixture.  If necessary, add water until the cucumbers are covered.  Cover container and refrigerate for 24 hours, then serve; cucumbers will keep for up to a month.

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A Story of Squash: Seed to Table

Tahitian Melon winter squash in the field.
I am happy to report our guests are dining on winter squash from the garden this fall.  But my what it took to get these enormous beauties to the table this year!
It was a long labor of love that began with the patty pan summer squash I planted in the raised beds.  I trimmed the winter rye and cut holes into them where I direct seeded the squash. These dwarf plants came up lovely, green and gorgeous, but just as they began to fruit, the pickleworms bore holes in their vines and their fruit, so there was none left for the kitchen!  The pickleworm is the larval form of a night moth which lays eggs on the leaves of cucurbits and once their eggs hatch, the young bore into the flowers of the squash, into the vines and into the fruit.  We were quick to pull those summer squash plants in an effort to get rid of the worms, but in hindsight leaving them in as a trap crop may have been a better option. Just as soon as they had no more patty pan to feed on they descended upon the cucumbers on the backfield trellis!
“Frass” from hole where a pickleworm bore into cucumber.
I left those cucs in place because right next to them were the winter squash.  Now, pickleworms, according to research, typically aren’t keen on winter squash like they are on cucs and summer squash, but just in case, I covered the backfield with row cover, which also would protect it from the dreaded squash vine borer should it have decided to make an appearance this year.
A pickleworm inching its way through the vine of a cucumber.
Row cover on the winter squash.
When the squash started blossoming, I was faced with some choices: hand pollinate and keep them covered; uncover them by day and let the bees do the job and cover them again by night (when the night moth emerges again); or uncover them and see what happens.  Well, I tried all three options but soon found the last was the most practical, and least laborious!  However, within weeks of uncovering them, I noticed some holes in the vines and some fruit shriveling up with a worm in it eating its way through the flesh. 
After more research, I decided to try a biological pesticide called Dipel. It’s a bacteria that attacks the worms.  The trouble with spraying this stuff on the squash plants is that it has to make direct contact with the skin of the worm.  Now, these guys are borers and are usually protected not only from the cover of the huge squash leaves, but also from their comfy abode hidden in the hollow of a vine and fruit!  So in order for this to work, I had to thoroughly spray at the base of every flower, around every fruit, along as many vines as I could, lifting the protective leaves as I went.  Well, I was determined! And…
Naturalist Rachael harvesting some long-in-coming squash this summer!
To the kitchen!
The chefs have been serving up winter squash off the grill, mashed up as a side dish, and in savory soups for months!


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Sweet Potatoes=Greens All Summer Long! (and yams come Fall)

Spring was a whirlwind of activity in the garden. Summer arrives oh-so-quickly in the south, and we need to plant everything in the ground as early as possible before the heat and the bugs set in! Right now we’re seeing the fruits of our hurried labor in the forms of cherry tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers, and sweet potato greens. The latter is what I’d like to celebrate in this post.

Sweet potatoes are near sure-fire successes in the summer garden.  They’re a southern staple. After the kale and collards have long bolted and gone to seed, they keep providing the table with greens.  Their roots store excellently too, providing nourishment year round.

On a farm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia a couple summers ago, I came to know their virtues well.  They were my “power bars” throughout the day.  We baked dozens of the last year’s crop at a time, put them in the fridge to easily grab and get reenergized. At dinner, we stir-fried their bountiful leaves with onions and garlic for a tasty side dish.

This Spring, we planted several rows and a couple beds of sweet potatoes on Little St. Simons Island. All of the “seed” came from the potatoes we grew TWO YEARS AGO in the backfield. An attempt was made to grow watermelons in that field last year, but the sweet potatoes left in the ground from the summer before took hold and won out.  When I first arrived in the garden this winter, the first task at hand was to pull all those potatoes out of the ground. And can you believe after carting several crates of them out of the garden last winter, still this spring dozens and dozens of seedlings, called “slips” in the world of tater-growin,’ came peaking up out of the rye cover in that back field!

    These are the sweet potato slips my husband grew for our home garden.
 If you’re going to grow your own slips, just cut the spuds in half and
put them in a tray of water and they’ll start spouting.

All this to demonstrate what a hardy vegetable the sweet potato is and how easy it is to grow.  A city-dwelling friend of mine grew them in her kitchen windowsill solely for their greens. If you’re growing for their spuds, sweet potatoes like well-drained, loose soil and sunshine. You can mound them up in a raised row to give their roots plenty of room to swell.  You can also plant them in raised beds. We did both late last Spring.  I plucked those slips out of the backfield as they were coming up, put them in trays for later-transplanting, and now, they’re sprawling beyond their beds and rows… clipped every week to supply Charles with a substitute for one of his lunch staples, navy bean and kale soup.  Come fall, we’ll dig them out of the ground, to be cured and ready for the baking come Thanksgiving. 

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Kale, microgreens, and more

Pea shoots! (Photo: Aaron Bell)
We had our first kale harvest this week! The Siberian kale, planted in one of our raised beds, has been an impressive crop to date, growing vigorously all fall and providing us with 5 lbs for our dinner-tables this evening. We are also harvesting flats of microgreens and pea shoots. Microgreens have made a splash in the markets over the past few years with their nutrient-dense nature, quick harvest times and relative ease of growth. We are growing radish, mustard, kale, and peas and will be harvesting flats ever 2-3 days through the fall and again in spring. More info on micro-greens can be found here, and if you are interested in trying to grow some indoors this winter, check out this how-to from Organic Gardening magazine.
Zebra longwing nectaring on some zinnias. (Photo: Aaron Bell)
In other news, we’re battling loopers and other caterpillars as well as a small number of aphids in the raised beds; hopefully, the next cold snap will drop their numbers and give the Lacinato kale a chance to grow. In the meantime, baby lettuces, beets, and radishes should be greeting us in the next week, while the turnips, collards, and Broccoli Raab are all healthy and happy.  
Below is a recipe from epicurious for bean and kale soup which is a regular hit here on the island. It’s an excellent way to use kale quickly during times of heavy harvest. Interestingly, kale can also be frozen for months, making it an ideal crop for areas with little or no winter growing season. 
White Bean and Kale Soup

YieldMakes 6 main-course servings
active time1 hr
total time3 hr

ingredients

  • 1 lb dried white beans such as Great Northern, cannellini, or navy
  • 2 onions, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 5 cups chicken broth
  • 2 qt water
  • 1 (3- by 2-inch) piece Parmigiano-Reggiano rind
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf (not California)
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 lb smoked sausage such as kielbasa (optional), sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
  • 8 carrots, halved lengthwise and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 lb kale (preferably lacinato), stems and center ribs discarded and leaves coarsely chopped

preparation

Cover beans with water by 2 inches in a pot and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let stand, uncovered, 1 hour. Drain beans in a colander and rinse.
Cook onions in oil in an 8-quart pot over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add beans, broth, 1 quart water, cheese rind, salt, pepper, bay leaf, and rosemary and simmer, uncovered, until beans are just tender, about 50 minutes.
While soup is simmering, brown sausage (if using) in batches in a heavy skillet over moderate heat, turning, then transfer to paper towels to drain.
Stir carrots into soup and simmer 5 minutes. Stir in kale, sausage, and remaining quart water and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until kale is tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Season soup with salt and pepper.
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Great summer, looking forward to fall!

It was quite the summer here in the Little St. Simons Island organic garden! We had an exceptionally wet season this year. For example, in just a three-week period, we had three storms with a total of 11 inches rainfall between them, and this pattern seemed to hold true for much of the summer.

Burgundy Okra (Photo: Laura Early)

As you can imagine, this is both a blessing and a curse and we’ve been busy just keeping up with the growth of both friend and foe. Thankfully, those long summer days provide plenty of time to get the work done and stay just ahead of the curve.

As our first tomatoes ripened, the crows got the first taste, but we were able to add garden fresh tomatoes to our dinner salads. Until a few weeks ago, we were still hip-deep (literally) in flowers as well; it’s been a zoo of zinnias, celosia, and dhalia, all vying for a spot in one of our lodge-side flower arrangements. We also saw success with Burgundy Okra, Malaysian Dark Red Eggplant, and a variety of peppers and basil. Speaking of which, we’ve had incredible fortune with a variety of basil known as “Mammoth”- fast growing and hearty, with a taste like Sweet basil and large, wavy leaves.

Siberian Kale (Photo: Laura Early)

The fall season has been great to us so far as well, with the comfortable drop in temperature being just the first of our blessings. We have healthy beds of autumn and winter greens started and, so far, they’re doing fantastically. Siberian Kale, in particular, has proven to be a hardy and fast-growing choice that is currently paired with “Misato Rose” radishes in one of our raised beds. This week should see the planting out of the rest of our first round of greens, including Georgia Collards, Broccoli Raab, turnips and spinach. As for harvest, we are in full swing with loads of Meyer Lemons and Satsuma tangerines already showing good color.

Finally, we got the opportunity to finish a year-long experiment in controlling our nematode population through cover cropping. We planted two beds in sweet potatoes, with one bed having been cover-cropped in rye which, in turn, had been plowed in before the planting. That bed produced 40 lbs of delicious potatoes while the other bed, our control, produced only 10 pounds! We will be employing this method on beds from here out and hope to continue to see improvements.

Other improvements we are excited to see include an expanded and extended blackberry trellis to double current size for our four new berry canes, and a more permanent structure for the 3-bin composting systems. Next time you are on the island, we invite you to the garden to have a look (smell and taste, too) at the progress!

Blackberry trellis (Photo: Laura Early)
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Garden Pepper Chow Chow

   Root -Knot Nematode Resistant Organic Bell Peppers

Organic Garden LSSI

Considering the Extreme challenges we have with the Plant Parasitic Root Knot Nematodes we are thrilled to report great success with our first planting of the RKN resistant varieties of  Certified Organic Bell Peppers: Carolina Wonder and Charleston Belle.

The first of organic seed with RKN resistance to be released comes from the company Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.  Check out SESE  for an abundance of great information on heritage seeds and diverse crop varieties for southern gardens.  Their catalog alone is a masterpiece and will no doubt have you dreaming of your grandmother’s garden.

Chili Peppers and Sweet Marconi Peppers

Another sweet pepper we loved this year is the Sweet Marconi.  An Italian Heirloom with tapered fruit that is known to grow up to 10 inches long.  This is a tall, very prolific plant that is great for containers or raised beds. 

Chef Paula has been making a lot of great chow-chow this summer with the LSSI garden peppers.

         Sweet and Hot Pepper Relish:
30 Red & Green Bell Peppers and Jalapenos Peppers to taste
3 cups White Vinegar
3 cups Sugar
1 1/2 Tsp. Salt
7 Yellow Onions

Chop Peppers and Onions in food processor or run through a grinder.  Put vinegar, sugar, and salt into an 8 quart or larger pot; heat to boiling and stir in peppers and onion.  When mixture boils, reduce heat and simmer (stirring often) for 30 minutes.  Pour mix into hot sterile jars.  Fix with hot sterile lids and tighten rings.  Makes 5-8 pints.

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Horned Melon!?!?

Kiwano, African Horned Melon, Exotic Fruit, Organic

This unusual fruit has found a place in the Organic Garden on Little St. Simons Island. Cucumis Metuliferus, a member of the cucurbitaceae family, known as African Horned Melon, Jelly Melon, Blowfish Fruit, or Kiwano, is native to Southern and Central Africa. 

Having a cucumber flavor with hints of melon, lime, and banana it has proven to be a late summer harvest perfect for sorbet.  The fruit is considered a good source of protein and Vitamins C, A, Iron, and Potassium.  

Plus it can withstand the monstrous squash bugs in the garden right now–check out those spines! 
  
These prolific vines provide fruit here from July until the first frost –perhaps December. 

Organic exotic fruit, horned melonOur Chefs will soon begin to harvest the fruit of the prickly pear cactus, growing wild on Little St. Simons Island, to combine with the Kiwano Sorbet.  Served in its frozen spiky shell it makes for an intriguingly delicious desert and for great conversation!
 
Commercially these fruit are now grown in New Zealand and California.  If you can find them at your local grocer try Chef Paula’s Kiwano Sorbet
Kiwano Sorbet Recipe
Print Options
Ingredients
·         10 Kiwano (African Horn Melon)
·         1 teaspoon lime zest
·         1/2 cup apple juice
·         1 tablespoon agave nectar
·         Pinch of sea salt
Method
1To prepare the Kiwano, cut them in half from top to bottom scoop out the jelly and seeds (keep the rind) and put into a blender or food processor and purée until smooth and soupy. Now strain through a fine mesh.
2 Now add the lime zest, agave nectar and sea salt and stir until incorporated.
3 Place mixture in refrigerator for one hour to chill. Also place Kiwano rinds in the freezer. After an hour taste sorbet mixture and adjust sweetness accordingly with agave nectar.
4Process in an ice cream machine via the manufacturer’s instructions. The sorbet will have a soft texture right out of the ice cream machine. Now remove rinds from freezer and scoop sorbet into rinds. Place back into the freezer for at least an hour.
Garnish with a sprig of Holy Basil.
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Pickling Time!

Chef Paula and Garden Volunteer Shelley harvest Coriander Seeds produced from Cilantro plants “gone to seed” to use in summer pickling recipes.  A colander works great to separate the seeds from the stems.
                           

Chef Paula’s favorite “quick pickling” recipe for the summer harvest:

16 servings, about 1/4 cup each
Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 pounds pickling cucumbers, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch slices
  • 2 each sliced 1/4-inch eggplant, Serrano peppers, zucchini
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 cup slivered onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, slivered
  • 1 teaspoon dill seed,
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seed
  • Fresh herb sprigs, dill, rosemary, thyme, or oregano

Preparation

  1. Place cucumber, eggplant, zucchini, and pepper slices in a colander set in the sink. Sprinkle with salt; stir to combine. Let stand for 20 minutes. Rinse, drain and transfer to a large heatproof bowl.
  2. Meanwhile, combine cider vinegar, white vinegar, brown sugar, onion, garlic, dill and mustard seed in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Pour the hot liquid over the cucumber and vegetable mixture; add herbs stir to combine. Refrigerate for at least 10 minutes to bring to room temperature.
  3. Prepare canning jars according to box directions.
  4. Ration pickle mixture among jars and seal. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Tips & Notes

  • Make Ahead Tip: Cover and refrigerate for up to 10 days. You can also use any fresh herbs you like to add more flavor to your pickles.

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    Spring Organic Garden Update

    It’s been a while since we’ve done a garden update, and there have been so many exciting things happening in our organic garden! We are continuing to overcome the challenges faced after the tidal flooding of June 2009. The floods affected the soil in the raised beds, increasing salinity and causing a host of issues. The saltiness of the soil was affecting the germination success of seeds, so calcium was added to help neutralize the soil. We are also applying compost teas regularly to replace the beneficial bacteria that were lost.  Additionally, the load of nematodes present increased dramatically;  to counteract the nematodes we have applied  Neem, a natural remedy made from a South American plant. Moreover, we have planted Marigolds. The Marigolds serve a number of functions. They release a chemical from the roots to suppress nematodes. They also suppress pest insects and attract beneficial insects. We will also be able to use the flowers in our cut arrangements.

    As for the garden crops, we are on the cusp of transitioning from the winter garden to the summer crops. There are potatoes in the ground, green and purple bush beans, and even one heirloom variety, the Georgia McCaslan pole bean. There are also beets, carrots, and winter greens including collards,  kale, chard, turnips, and arugula. The warmer temperatures will allow an early transition to summer crops of tomatoes, okra, and peppers. Other plants in the organic garden include herbs, and cutting flowers like nasturtiums, calendula, pansies, sunflowers, zinnias, asters, and even loofah.

    Perhaps one of the most exciting developments in the organic garden is that we have completed installation of an underground irrigation system, rather than relying on the hose and sprinkler system of the past. This will allow us better control of our watering schedule and the ability to set a timer to water at regular intervals. The system is even equipped with rain sensors, so we don’t have to worry about using water when we don’t need to! This was a wonderful addition to our garden space. Another upcoming change will be to relocate our three types of composting systems into the main garden area. When visiting the garden, you can see a shade cloth where the bins will be placed which will help protect them from the most intense heat of the day.

    Please be sure to visit the organic garden on your visit to Little St. Simons Island!

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    Fall Garden Update

    Summer’s vegetables have come and gone, and fall crops have taken their place in the LSSI organic garden. Fall is one of the most productive seasons for plants in our gardens, thanks to milder temperatures and less pressure from insects. The fall garden includes a variety of vegetables, herbs, and cutting flowers. They include carrots, radishes, green beans, collards, pok choi, chard, arugula, mesclun mix, green onions, parsley, cilantro, oregano, sage, thyme, tarragon, mint, sorrel, dill, chives, chervil, fennel, nasturtiums, pansies, calendula, and micro-green sprouts of beets, radishes, peas, mizuna, and cabbage! What a variety! All of these wonderful plants will be used to the fullest advantage in the Lodge kitchen so guests can enjoy their rich organic flavors and colors. We continue to recycle kitchen waste into usable soil and compost teas by using vermicompost, tumbler, and stationary bin composting systems.

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